Failure to launch

Apex pulls the plug on Tama County project

Drew Christensen, right, with Apex Clean Energy speaks during a landowner meeting held on March 22, 2022, at the Traer Memorial Building. More than 120 people packed the room as Christensen and Apex development manager Jarrod Beckstrom spoke for a combined 12 minutes to the gathered crowd about the planned Winding Stair Wind project. The project was recently terminated by Apex after failing to garner enough interest among landowners. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

DYSART – After first leasing office space in downtown Dysart more than two years ago, the Virginia-based company Apex Clean Energy – better known by its commercial wind energy project name, Winding Stair Wind – has terminated its leases with Tama County landowners.

“Apex Clean Energy has made the difficult decision not to pursue the Winding Stair Wind project at this time and will be terminating the existing wind leases,” Drew Christensen, Apex’s senior director of public engagement, told the Telegraph in an email last week. “Because of insufficient leased land, Apex has shifted focus to other projects in Iowa and the broader Midwest.

“We sincerely appreciate the support of participating landowners and were hopeful to advance the project to operations. This would have brought long-term economic growth to Tama County and all its residents, as well as more homegrown energy as we work towards national energy independence.”

According to company documents, upon completion, the planned Winding Stair Wind project would have generated up to 210 megawatts of energy from approximately 50-70 turbines. Over the project’s 30-year lifespan, a local economic impact assessment conducted for Apex by a third party predicted the project would have provided more than $40 million in total school district revenue, more than $12 million in total county property taxes, more than $67 million in landowner lease payments, and roughly 16-18 full-time windtech jobs.

The project’s footprint occupied roughly the northeastern quadrant of the county from Buckingham in the north to the outskirts of Elberon in the south to Traer in the west while including the areas around both Clutier and Dysart.

A Tama County Against Turbines (TCAT) sign bowls over in the wind along the edge of a farm field near Clutier in the spring of 2022. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

The project generated a significant amount of local opposition ever since the first land agents with the Ames-based JCG Land Services began contacting landowners on behalf of Apex in the fall of 2021. The local coalition Tama County Against Turbines (TCAT) formed in direct opposition to the project soon thereafter.

Development phase to bust

From July 2021 through June 2022, some 25 easements ranging in size from just under three acres to over 500 acres were filed with the Tama County Recorder’s Office between Winding Stair Project LLC and landowners. In total, the easements encompassed more than 3,380 acres.

During a Tama Co. Board of Supervisors meeting held in May of 2022, Christensen shared that Apex’s Winding Stairs Wind project would need “somewhere in the realm of north of 20,000 [acres]” to be viable.

In February of this year landowners with Apex leases under the Winding Stair Wind project received letters informing them of the project’s terminated status.

Several of those leaseholders were contacted by the Telegraph regarding the content of the letters but each declined to comment at this time.

According to a Winding Stair Wind Lease Term Sheet used for discussion purposes and obtained by the Telegraph in early 2022, during the development term, landowners would receive an annual rent payment equal to the greater of $15 per acre or $2,000.

During operations – in addition to other payments – annual rent payments would equal the sum of $25 per acre, $0.75 per linear foot of installed access roads, $0.25 per linear foot of installed underground collection circuits, $4,500 per megawatt of nameplate capacity of turbines installed on the property, $2,000 per occupied resident located on the property, and $500 per above-ground junction box.

If the project had made it out of the initial development phase, Apex planned for a late 2025-early 2026 operations phase which would have included a permanent operations building and warehouse.

Apex currently has two projects in operation in the state of Iowa including the 121-turbine project Upland Prairie Wind in the northwest Iowa counties of Clay and Dickinson, and the 224.25 megawatt Great Pathfinder project near Altoona.